Parenting is a marathon. It feels great while you’re doing it, it pushes you to the mental and physical brink, and there is a let down when you stop. Of course, I’ve never run a marathon, but that’s what I imagine it’s like. This morning I got ready to send my son to summer camp for a week. As his car drove away, Pepper and I walked into an empty house. The remains of last night’s chicken nuggets and butterfly shrimp littered the kitchen counter. Baskets of laundry seemed to me to sit pondering in the silence; wondering where their owners had disappeared to.
My mind has been ruminating endlessly the past few weeks. Wesley is constantly on the computer playing Minecraft and the computer is my preferred writing place. Rather than fighting him for the computer, I’ve taken the path of least resistance. Instead of siphoning off my thoughts Dumbledore style, they are crammed in my head screaming for release. Now he’s gone and I have a few hours to myself, I’ll see what comes out.
This morning in my quiet room with only sweet Pepper there to receive my love and nurturing, I sat on my bed and looked at her gorgeous soft, shiny coat. It’s black, but I’ve learned from drawing it that there are places that are white and light grey. That’s what makes it look shiny. Things are always more complicated than they seem. The human brain, always aching for simplicity, wants to see Pepper’s fur as a single color. It is black. It isn’t midnight, moon grey, scintillating silver, or morning fog. That’s too complicated. Black and tan. She’s a chihuahua mix. But she isn’t. She’s a mutt with bloodlines that are uniquely hers; an angel crafted through time and given by God to me to comfort me in my blackest midnight. But it isn’t just black. Life is like that. It isn’t black and white.
But I understand that if I had lived a different life, I wouldn’t see the complexity either. And I would relish the simplicity. Nature is always yearning for simplicity, stasis, harmony, balance. Rivers take the smoothest and easiest path. The brain craves rest. Thinking takes energy. Seeing is work. And yet I think. And yet, I see.
And for that I will never rest. I will run the marathon. So today I paused in my frenzy of thought and prayed. It has been a long time. Sometimes it’s easier to feel the guilt and push it away than actually do the thing that will put the guilt to rest for good. Praying felt good. God reminded me that I’m not such a bad person as my brain likes to tell me I am.
My brain likes to insist that my good intentions pave my road to hell. Every glass of milk I give my child is half empty, not half full. My efforts are never enough. It is like the God in my head is a version of my teenaged son with a gift for ferreting out my every flaw and hypocritical act. The real God sees me different. And in that quiet moment, I remember that He isn’t the demanding perfectionist my brain likes to think He is. My heart poured out to Him all my shortcomings and failings and He calmed that storm with a simple thought. “Do you think I need your efforts, my child? Don’t you remember that I am the one with the loaves and the fishes? I am everything you need.”
But I need a functional government and a church community. I need assurances that my children are going to grow up to be competent adults. I need money in my bank account and friends to affirm me. I need. I need. I need. I need to understand it all right now!!
But I don’t need. I don’t need anything but Him. He leads my soul to the still water. He soothes the wounds the world has given me; the wounds I give myself. And He heals me. And I remember what I forgot. He is everything I need.
And yet we understand Him so imperfectly. We imagine Him to be a simplistic version of our own creation. We remake his image like a child with a crude crayon on brown recycled paper. We hold it up as the true God of Israel and then the sheep stray. We forget that He is not our toy soldier. He is not our mascot to be remade at our convenience. The human mind could study Him for a lifetime and never unlock His secrets. He is not of this world and no human mind can comprehend Him.
How Great is Our God? How Great is Our God? How Great, How Great is Our God?!? Tongue cannot tell, nor heart can frame. Yet we rise from the dust of our creation. We reach for Him and He reaches down to us. For a moment, He opens my eyes to see; I am more than this world. I was born for a better world. My heart is comforted in my uncomfortable; I will never fit here because I belong with Him. He and I know that and it is enough.
I went to linger longer today. For those who aren’t familiar with it, linger longer is a ward activity that involves staying after church for a potluck meal. Potluck meals are a pain when you have young children. You have to make sure they get something healthy to eat, that they are playing nicely, and that they don’t decide to go eat off other people’s plates…..or tip over the buffet table. As you socialize with people, you have to have part of your brain always monitoring your kiddos. Is that kid screaming mine? Or did he cause some other kid to scream? Is that my kid with the mountain of dessert on his plate? Then I’m always worried I’m going to zone out in the middle of a conversation and embarrass myself. With a big family, there is the problem of where to sit. We have large round tables that seat about ten people. With a family of six, we usually share a table with another family, but it can be tricky to make sure you don’t take too many seats or wind up with a couple of kids with no where to sit. That’s just awkward!
Anyway, when my depression/anxiety got bad a year ago, I told Ben absolutely not. Even when my sons would beg and cry, I said no way. Then when things deteriorated with the Relief Society, I didn’t know if I would ever go to a linger longer again. The smell of the food in the church house would make me feel ill. The fact that we actually made food and stayed the whole time and I didn’t panic and run to a classroom to breathe into a paper sack, is remarkable. I actually had a good time. I introduced myself to a family that moved in recently. I mingled. It was good! There was anxiety. I didn’t eat much. There were moments of awkward wandering, but it was overall a pleasant social gathering.
So I’ve done some hard things lately. I’ve started the school year. I’ve been tackling my procrastination list. I’ve been socializing more. I went to a pool party, helped clean a sister’s house twice, and went to a friend’s birthday lunch. Being more present with my ward family and more socially conscious has been a growing experience that has moments of discomfort, but overall it has been good.
I was thinking today about my last post about sisters posturing. Honestly, I’m not sure I didn’t participate in the posturing. As the sacrament was going around, I did some serious introspection. My mind was exploring the idea of female posturing and whether or not if I had participated in it. If I had, was it a sin. I decided that I didn’t think it was. Then I had a thought come into my mind that I think was inspiration. I’m going to try to explain it using a math metaphor.
So I was concerned about the possibility that I had engaged in the posturing I had observed at the cleaning activity. Then, if I had ignored my own participation in it and yet written about others engaging in it, that would have been quite rude and dishonest. But upon introspection, I couldn’t remember for sure whether I had or not. I know I didn’t engage with the sisters with authenticity. Instead, I kind of detached and tried to focus on the tile grout. The epiphany came when I realized that it didn’t matter whether I had postured or not. The fact that I was moving toward authenticity was what God cared about. This idea of movement or trajectory is what caught my mind and then I began to put the pieces together.
I stayed up late reading the scriptures. I can’t remember which chapter it was but it was Paul writing about the adoption of the Gentiles and how the Jews were the covenant people and that they were blessed and favored of the Lord, but then they lost that position and it was given to the gentiles. Paul’s style is very complex and analytical, but the spirit was with me and the meaning that the spirit was revealing to me was very clear. God doesn’t care where you are. He cares about your trajectory. Because he sees us not as a point in space, to use my mathematical metaphor, but from an eternal perspective, it is more like a line. Our past is one point on the line. Our present is another point. Our future, is the third point. God cares about what our trajectory is. Are we on a negative slope? If so, the Lord is not pleased. We need to repent. If our trajectory is positive, the Lord is pleased. Of course, we want to try to make the slope as steep as we can, but the crucial thing is, as God, he sees the slope; while as mortals we only see the present. We see the dot on grid. He sees the line.
When I look at the scriptural history through this metaphor, that chapter I read is very clear. Consider the Jews at the time of the Savior. They occupied a privileged place. They obeyed the law of Moses as they interpreted it. They looked forward to a Savior to deliver them from Rome and other political oppressors. They were imperfect, but compared to the gentiles, they were high on the graph. Then the Savior came to give them a higher law, to show them a better way, to invite them to change the trajectory of their spiritual growth. Instead of accepting this invitation, they rejected him and then killed him. This put their trajectory severely negative. The Savior put them beneath even Sodom and Gomorrah because although the Jews were superficially righteous, they were unwilling to change their trajectory. They insisted on rejecting the opportunity to repent and usher in new truth into their system. It is recorded in several places where the Savior marvels at the faith and obedience of certain gentiles he comes into contact with. Although he never taught in gentile cities or ministered outside of Judea, he understood that the time would come after he was rejected and murdered, that his gospel would be given to the gentiles where it would spread and grow, changing the spiritual landscape of the world.
As a personal application, I see myself having my emotional and spiritual ups and downs. I know where my dot is on the graph, but I also see my trajectory. I’m on a solidly positive slope. Did I posture in my interactions with the other women? Perhaps. Was I dishonest with myself and with them, hiding behind a mask of deception? Perhaps. It doesn’t really matter as long as my dot is moving toward authenticity. If it is, that is all that matters. I’m not going to attain perfection in a day. I’m going to fall short of the ideal that I am working toward, but I need not become discouraged or ashamed.
This is a big breakthrough for me in having compassion toward myself and others. It also helps me to understand the Savior’s interactions on this Earth. He didn’t see the harlot, the publican, the fisherman, the leper, the pharisee, etc; he saw their past, present, and future. The harlot’s dot was low on the graph and that was all the pharisee could see. The Savior saw her humility, her willingness to repent, her desire to improve her spiritual and emotional condition. He was impressed not by her position on the graph, but on the trajectory of her line. In contrast, the pharisee’s dot was high on the graph, but his pride and his treatment of the Savior put his trajectory in the negative, prompting the Savior to correct him.
I’ll use another example that has some political overtones, just to keep things interesting. Let’s consider those who come to our Southern border seeking asylum. They are low on the graph. Most of them have little to nothing in the way of personal possessions. As our President has so cruelly observed, they come from “sh*thole countries.” Still, the wise investor doesn’t look at companies that look sucessfulsuccessful in the present. The wise investors look to the future to see what the company’s potential is given a place in sufficient support and investment. When America is at her finest, she welcomes the refugee and the immigrant knowing that those who have the fortitude and determination to come to this land usually have the potential needed to be successful here. Their success has made America the greatest country in the world. By closing our doors to them, we deprive ourselves of their potential while also earning ourselves a rebuke from the Savior.
When the Savior teaches that the last shall be first and the first shall be last it always makes me think. He is perfectly fair and just. He is no respecter of persons. He sees me as a line, not a point. I hope that I can learn to see others that way as well. I hope that as I live my life that I can be the person who is a friend when the chips are down, a confidant when the truth is hard to share, a comfort to the one who is sitting in a dark place. If I can do those things, perhaps my Master will be pleased with me.
Today I helped a new sister clean her house before she moved in. I usually never do stuff like this, but I decided to today for several reasons. For one thing, this lady was assigned as one of my ministering sisters. Another thing, is I am trying to be supportive of the new Relief Society presidency. Another thing is, it’s good for me to serve and socialize even though it isn’t my favorite thing to do.
When I arrived, I saw familiar faces from church standing in a circle and chatting. I had just dropped off my baby with the sitter and was eager to get started, but I engaged a little in the small talk about the house. I thought it interesting to see how each sister chose a different part of the house to clean. I chose the tile grout. Why?
I like getting deep into the dirty parts in the foundation. A clean floor is a clean house to me. Other sisters wiped out cupboards or did other stuff. I didn’t really pay attention to them. I just focused on my job. As I listened to the other sisters talk, I thought about all the reasons I don’t fit in. I remember long ago my counselor talked to me about women and the way we compete with one another for status. Being thin, pretty, a good housekeeper, a devoted mother, having a wealthy husband, having a successful career…..these are all values that we compete in. Inevitably, I find myself feeling inadequate as others jockey for position within the female social framework. Why? I am reasonably thin, well educated, and otherwise successful. What makes me ashamed? It is self-knowledge.
Self-esteem has always been a tricky thing for me. You can’t esteem what you don’t understand and I don’t really know myself. This depressive episode has charted more territory in my self-discovery than ever before, but I don’t always like what I find. Self-discovery can be painful when I confront my own illusions, my motivations, my fears, and everything else that I prefer not to look at. Also, as I discover more about myself, I realize that who I am is not under my control nearly as much as I wanted to think it was. I am a product of forces like my community, my family, my genetics, my habits. These things are like concrete. At one time, they may have been flexible and moldable, but over the course of the forty years I have been alive, they have hardened into the shape of me. This shape I am still discovering, but one thing I am certain of: no amount of working out at the gym, reading to enrich my mind, or self-improvement effort is going to make me over into the person who can, with authenticity, present myself to others as anything but a deeply flawed person. I am convinced that the only way I want to live is with authenticity, so I don’t have much to say in superficial conversations that seem to involve posturing.
This is tricky territory I am wandering into. I don’t want to imply that I am judging and condemning other women for their posturing. I would just as soon condemn my dog for licking her bottom. It is what dogs do. As women, we posture and compete and jockey for position. It’s what we do. I just don’t do it and I never really understood why before, but today I think I made some progress. Sometimes I thought something was wrong with me and that was why I seemed disinterested, discouraged, or even annoyed during these social interactions. Now I see that what is right with me is what is wrong with me. My own self-knowledge of my flaws, coupled with my determination to live with authenticity, result in my overall disenchantment with superficial human interaction in general.
So what I thought in the past was social anxiety, seems to be to be something else. It is a tendency toward self preservation; a need to live authentically and be accepted for who I truly am, not for a projection I’d like others to think I am. So as I scrubbed the stains from the tile floor, I considered myself, in that space, being me, observing the other sisters around me, and seeing everything from this new perspective.
And then, I started thinking about the people who were not there–the previous owners of the home. Of course, they had foreclosed the house and left it in a sorry state, so no one was very complimentary of them. We were engaged in cleaning the grime of years that had accumulated in what had been their home. Then the thought occurred to me, that these faceless, nameless people had been in our ward. They were not members of the church, but they had lived in my ward boundaries and as such, they were technically in my ward family. They had struggled and suffered and lived out their days in my neighborhood and only now did I spare a thought for them. Why was I cleaning their house now, and not months or years before? Why was this family worthy of my help and the other wasn’t? Were they not just as loved by their Heavenly Father? At this moment, that family is probably moving into another home somewhere, but surely God is aware of them and loves them just as much as he loves me. Seeing myself within this picture of other divine children both on the covenant path and off it, helps me to understand my own place in this world and what he would have me do. I’m not the woman I wish I were, but perhaps I am who he needs me to be.
That is where grace comes in. I am not the woman I wish I were. Still, the Savior died for me. He loves me that much, so I can give myself a little grace. I can look into my dark places and give myself some forgiveness that I fall short. I can restrain the inner critic and unleash the inner nurturer and allow myself to be; to exist without judgement. There is no greater gift one person can give another; suspended judgement.
When something imperfect is allowed to exist, it reminds me of the plan of salvation and the wisdom of my God. He created this world, an anomaly within the cosmos, a temporal vaccuume in the fabric of eternity, a place where justice and perfection are suspended and sin and death are allowed to exist. This place, the training and testing place of the spirit sons and daughters of God, is a crucible of pain and growth. One of the hardest things to learn in life is to do as God has done. To suspend judgement. To allow our fellow men to make their choices and love them regardless of what those choices are and how they affect us is to approach the throne of God himself. That is what he has done. He suspends his judgment until the end. He has given us the hope of salvation through the sacrifice of his son. And he waits. He waits for us to find ourselves and one another in the mess that is this world. He waits for us to feel after him and remember ourselves; not the shallow images of our vain imaginations, but the God that lives within us. He waits. He waits for me.
I haven’t posted in a long time and there are several reasons for that. I have been helping a friend who is going through a really hard time and although I have had a lot to think about and write about, I haven’t been sure how to do it while still keeping confidences. I’ve thought about writing a parable or something, but everything is still so raw and sensitive that there really is no way to express how I feel even on a private blog without revealing something.
So I just pray that I can write something that will do no harm, but might help someone even if that someone is only myself. The biggest take away that I have had from the last three weeks is that there is real suffering in this world and that there are some people who, through no fault of their own, become victimized again and again. These people have tremendous potential for good, but often cannot see it in themselves because society writes a script for them and they believe that they cannot break out of that script to write their own story.
Les Miserables is my all time favorite book. I’ve read it several times, the last time I read the unabridged version in which I learned more than I ever wanted to about the streets of Paris and Napoleon and French politics. Most of it I have forgotten. The most memorable parts of the book for me have been the characters. Who can forget Fantine? She was lovely, she was good, she was so devoted to her child that she sold her teeth and hair to pay for her fictitious medical bills. Her daughter Cosette was destined to follow in her footsteps; a waif, enslaved by the monstrous Thénardiers, robbed, deprived, and abused in every way. But when great evil exists in the world, the hand of God is also revealed.
Consider the Bishop Myriel. He was the embodiment of the Savior, fearless, compassionate, and wise. When Jean Valjean, the despised convict, brings his vitriol and bile into the Bishop’s home, steals his silver candlesticks, the only things of value in his sparse abode, and flees as a literal thief in the night, the reader expects that the Bishop will allow him to be punished to the full extent of the law as he is caught and dragged back in chains to be identified. Instead, the wise Bishop sees something in Jean Valjean. He sees the man beneath the pain, beneath the course exterior, behind the crimes he has committed. He sees Jean Valjean as the Savior would have seen him, with the eye of hope; the vision of the possibility that Jean Valjean could change. He could live a life different than the one society had carved out for him. He acted on that faith, sent the law enforcement officers away, insisting that the candlesticks had been a gift. When the threat of the officers is gone, he tells Jean Valjean that the candlesticks are a gift to him, a ransom in the similitude of the Savior’s atonement, and that he should use them to make a new life for himself.
Then Jean Valjean continues his life of crime. He even steals from a child, terrorizing him before taking a coin from him. He sees the yellow paper he is required by law to carry that marks him as a convict and forces him into the role he has been told he is to play on life’s stage; a vagabond, a thief, a vagrant. Then he thinks of the Bishop and the candlesticks and the possibility that he could carve a different path for himself. Could he, Jean Valjean be redeemed? Could he have a new life as the Bishop told him he could. He kneels down moments after the child he stole from flees in terror and he weeps at the man he has become; a man he despises. He feels the bitterness, the anger, and the pain melt away in the sunlight of the Bishop’s faith. He throws the yellow paper aside and begins his new life, with a new name, and a new vision for the man he wants to be.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, I highly recommend that you read it or watch the many dramatic reenactments that have sprung up in its wake over the decades. The remarkable life of Jean Valjean as he battles against the social construct of his time, symbolized in the fascinating character of Javier, to live his life of service and moral principle is as inspiring as it is entertaining. Jean Valjean tries to save Fantine, but tragic circumstances result in her death. He is determined to rescue her child Cosette. The child becomes his life, his one and only love, his whole world. He saves her from a fate destined to follow the tragic footsteps of her mother, and gives her a charmed life instead. She is given an education, fine clothes to wear, the love and protection of a devoted father. Instead of victimization and slavery, Fantine’s daughter is married into a wealthy Bourgeoise family where her every need is met. Victor Hugo’s descriptions of Cosette’s happiness are heavenly and they are made possible solely by the incredible sacrifices of Jean Valjean.
In this world of sadness, heartache, abuse, and pain; there is also righteousness, redemption, and noble sacrifice. Jean Valjean would not have become the man he became without Javier, the Thenardiers, the galley slave ships, the yellow convict papers. The evils within the fallen society of France, which could be any place on this Earth, forged Jean Valjean into the man who was able to save Cosette.
I’ve often thought of the name of the book, Les Miserables— the miserable. Truly, it is a story of misery. War, unjust punishments, slave galleys, prostitution, rape, poverty, the slaughter of student protesters in the streets, greed, exploitation of children; there are so many ways in which we humans can create hell on Earth and many of them are explored in depth in this book. And yet, in Bishop Myriel and Jean Valjean and Fantine and Eponine, we see that redemption is possible through love and compassion for our fellow travelers on this road of misery that is life. The Bishop inspired Jean Valjean who comforted Fantine. Fantine inspired Valjean who then rescued Cosette. Cosette inspired Valjean to save Marius. In the end Valjean even cracked Javier, his ultimate nemesis. Javier is the symbol of justice in the story, the personification of fallen human construct, self-righteous and void of compassion. He is at last overcome by Valjean’s character which can no longer be denied or explained away. Like the Savior, Valjean’s love and valor were not of this world and this world cannot rule it or understand it. Just as the Savior broke the bands of death and walked from the tomb, Valjean broke Javier; shattered his stereotypes, his cynicism, and his calloused assumptions about the potential of the fallen human soul.
So next time you see great evil; the next mass shooting, the next victim of abuse, the next road rage incident, the next murder– don’t forget, great evil can inspire great love and courage. There is compassion, service, and sacrifice. There is a choice that each of us has; the same choice that Jean Valjean had that day as he knelt in the field. We can walk the path that society dictates; the slut, the abuse victim, the convict, the addict, the helpless spectator, the greedy user, the coward who casts blame and expects others to solve problems. We can walk that path, or we can choose something different. We can cast away that yellow paper no matter what the consequences our fellow men threaten. We can forge our own lives, make our own path, and counter the evils of our time through repentance and the grace of Him who is Mighty to Save!
Perhaps you think there is nothing you can do. Perhaps you believe that you are powerless against the tide of wickedness that is permeating our society. Perhaps you feel you are meant to wait on the Lord who will come rescue us from our peril. I have felt that way too, but something tells me he expects more from us. He sees in us what the Bishop saw in Jean Valjean; a man who can inspire, uplift, and strengthen others; a man capable not of waiting for the Savior to rescue him, but of being the Savior’s hands to rescue others. I picture the Bishop extending his candlesticks to me. “Take these and make of yourself a righteous woman, a handmaid of the Lord.” What potential would he see in me? What could I do with the opportunities that I have around me?
I have had the tremendous privilege to serve some of “the miserable” in the past months. It has given me powerful insight into the way the Savior views each one of his children. Each and every person is of eternal value. It is natural to harbor fear which cripples faith and paralyses righteous action. Those who suffer are often sensitive, easily offended, and difficult to foster a relationship of trust with. Sometimes they may even victimize us as Valjean did to the Bishop. (Fortunately, those I have helped have done no such thing.) When I fill my heart with the sure knowledge that each and every one of God’s children is of eternal value and that his grace is sufficient for them, my fear is purged away. When I follow his promptings and strive to see His children as He does, I know that my efforts will be enough.
Praise be the name of my Master! Glory be to the Son! In Him I find my strength. In Him my weakness is swallowed up. In Him I find meaning and purpose in my life. Blessed be His name!
I found several black swallowtail caterpillars in my garden a few weeks ago. I raised them on rue until they were big and fat, then they made their chrysalises. The last three days they have been emerging. We had one on Sunday, one yesterday, and two today. We are waiting on one little chrysalis which will probably not last more than another day.
As I was getting my three year old ready to go to YMCA camp, I was rushing around the backyard when I saw a giant swallowtail. The black swallowtails are gorgeous and almost as big as your hand. The giant swallowtail makes them look small. They are as big as a bird. I drove to the YMCA musing on the significance of two black swallowtail butterflies AND the giant swallowtail. Could it be that God is/was sending me a message?
As though insect messengers were not enough, I turned onto my street on my way home, and there was a striking red Cardinal under my rose bush! I parked my car and went to investigate. The bird flew away, but I thought I saw another bird. Curious, I walked around the corner of my house and there were TWO Cardinals! A male and a female. In total, I had three cardinals visit my garden at the same time. I don’t even have any bird feeders to attract them!
This experience today reminded me of my first counselling session after I left the Sundance mental hospital. It was October 2012. I was reeling from the trauma I had experienced there, but also treasuring the sacred and beautiful bonds I had made with the other patients. It had taken all the courage I possessed to trust another counselor with my story. As I sat there trying to explain the unique twists and turns of my depression journey, she kept looking out the window behind me. She said, “There is a dove that has just landed on the fence outside. Doves are a symbol of hope and divine intervention.” That she would notice such a coincidence was not surprising to me. Her entire aura and her home where we were meeting spoke of a hippy, new-age, eclectic, artistic personality. I did find it unusual that she kept commenting on the birds.
After a few minutes, she said, “There’s another dove! It’s landed next to the first.” In total, I think there were four doves that came to her backyard that day during that first session. It never happened again that I know of. If it did, she didn’t mention it and I think she would have.
I have seen God’s hand working in my recovery. Small, quiet, little things that would be easily missed if I weren’t deliberately taking the time to see them and express gratitude. He is mindful of me and my pain. He understands it when no one else does. Every day I face the challenges, beat back the depression, and press forward.
I am growing. There is no stopping it now. It is as though I am a mighty oak sprouting from a sidewalk crack. The cement cannot encase me any longer. It is strong and exerts tremendous pressure, but I am getting stronger than the pressure. I can be patient. It is inevitable. The concrete will break. It must retreat because I must grow.
I won’t mourn the sidewalk. It isn’t bad, it’s just in the wrong place. For so long I’ve thought that it was I that was in the wrong place. Now I see that it was for his purposes that I sprouted where I did and faced the opposition I have faced.
What I have learned most this week on a deeper level than ever before, is that religious dogmatism and spirituality exist in opposition. Dogma is the human mind’s way of coping with God without spirituality. It is the lazy path. Dogma says, “I don’t have to know God personally, I can just listen to what someone else says about him, do what they say, and then I’ll be saved.” When you push dogma aside and approach the throne of God yourself, what will happen? Nothing? That would be devastating, but it gets worse. What if he did tell you something? What if he told you to leave your parents and your home, journey off into the wilderness, and spend a nomadic life searching for him? He said that to Abraham. What if he told you that everything you’d been taught was wrong? What if he told you to sell everything you have and follow Him? At different times in the scriptures God has said those very things to various people. Some obeyed like Peter and Paul. Some rebelled like Jonah and then repented afterward. Some walked away sorrowing, like the rich young man. There have been so many people who have lived on the Earth that have never asked God; never sought that intimate connection with him. No wonder! The dogmatic way is easier. So predictable. So tame and popular with everyone. You can even make money at it!
I have decided to take a different path. I want to know God myself. I want my questions answered, not just by a conference talk or even an ancient record of scripture. I want direct knowledge and understanding. I want spiritual gifts. I want things of value that the world doesn’t see and can’t understand, and won’t value. I don’t want position or honors of men or money, I want to please my God. In doing this, I will naturally have conflict with those who walk a more dogmatic path. That’s okay. I’m coming to expect that opposition and understand it better.
Along with resistance, I am also finding support. Support can come from unexpected places like the cardinals and the butterflies. I’ve found myself overwhelmed by gratitude when I get human angels who send me a card, give me a hug, or shoot me a message. The depression is still hard, and I still have burdens I carry, but I’m getting so much stronger.
I’m filled with gratitude today for the help my Savior has sent me from heavenly messages spoken and unspoken, winged and without wings. He lives! He loves us! He has not left us to live in this fallen world alone and without comfort. May His blessings and peace find you as well.
I read an article about Eminem online. I never liked him before today. I guess I judged him because of his foul language and some of the stuff in the headlines about him many years ago. Like so many things about my past self, I am starting to question my old judgement, look closer at others that I have dismissed in the past.
I will never be a regular listener of Eminem’s music. That’s okay. But I can see him, and I can see those who find solace and support in his words. He released an album called “Recovery” after battling with a severe addiction to various pills. I listened to the song, “Not Afraid.” I made a conscious effort to ignore the profanity (warning, it’s explicit) and focus instead on the message of the song. By the end, I was able to see a man, very rough around the edges, determined to improve his life for this children; to become his best self.
I can understand why, for many people, this song would feed their spirit and give them courage to fight their own addictions. It is inspiring to me. Ideally, the addict would be able to come to church and get that support from people they know and love who could lead them to the Savior and their healing path. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons, they don’t feel comfortable coming. Look at Eminem in this video. Imagine him walking in and sitting on your row in sacrament meeting. Imagine him getting up in fast and testimony meeting and saying the things he says in this video. And yet, for an addict, Eminem’s rough message of hope and redemption and support is just what many of our members who struggle with these issues need to hear and don’t hear at church. “I’ll walk this path with you, come take my hand, you’re not alone,” he says. The foul language and angry tone are messy and ugly, but so is addiction and the damage it causes to individuals and families. His expression of that ugly through foul language is cathartic for him and for others who struggle including me. It is paradoxical. Through expressing the ugly, we release it and it ceases to control us.
When I was admitted to the Sundance Mental Inpatient facility six years ago, I had an experience with a young man. He was barely twenty or so. I was in my mid thirties. We were in group therapy and he shared his story. He had been addicted to various drugs since he was in gradeschool. He went to the doctor because he was having some health problems. He was told that if he didn’t make drastic changes to his lifestyle that he would die. His liver, heart, and kidneys were in terrible shape. He was just a kid, but his organs were like an old man. He cried as he revealed the desperation he felt. He wanted to live. He said his recovery wasn’t even a choice because if he didn’t overcome his addiction he would die. My heart went out to this boy.
I wanted to connect with him and some of the other group members who had shown some vulnerability. I told about my story of my perfectionism and how my best efforts were never enough even though I got good grades and graduated from college. I was trying to communicate that in my own way, I was as desperate as this young man to escape the demons that brought me to that hospital. Unfortunately, he judged me.
With hatred in his eyes he said, “I don’t know why we have to have these classes with the “depression people.” I still don’t know exactly how he saw me or why exactly he was so hostile, but I was confused and desperate to clarify myself. I apologized for talking about my good grades. I said, I don’t think I’m any better than anyone in this room. I have my demons and you have yours. The therapist tried to salvage the situation. She explained that the underlying reasons people become addicted and stay addicted to substances is because they are often trying to cope with emotional problems. That the “addiction people,” and the “depression people,” are really the same. I tried to talk to this boy at different times, but he actively avoided me. At times I saw him talking to another “addiction person” and glaring at me menacingly. Everyone else at the center loved me. I loved them right back. I listened to their stories and I told them about the Savior and his healing power. I found myself wishing that church felt more like that hospital. It was truly a healing place.
I count myself fortunate that I haven’t become ensnared with substance addiction. I have my coping strategies that are unhealthy and harmful, but none that have destroyed my mind or body for which I am grateful. The Word of Wisdom, which is a chapter in our book of scripture that was written by the Prophet Joseph Smith, teaches about harmful addictive substances and some basic principles for healthy living. Because of this chapter in the Doctrine and Covenants and our willingness to live it, me, my parents, my siblings, and my grandparents have all avoided addictions to drugs and alcohol in spite of serious emotional trauma in their lives that easily could have led to it.
For those who have not been so fortunate, I reach out to you. We are not so different. I don’t completely understand the challenges you face. I won’t assume that I know what you are going through, or dish out a whole bunch of advice. I just want you to know that not everyone like me is judging you. You aren’t alone in your struggles. I’ve had a couple of friends who have gone through rehab and 12 step programs. I celebrate with them in their successes. I want them to know that even if they don’t trust me to confide in me when they relapse, that I am there for them at those times too.
I’ve been studying Carl Jung for a while. He was actually instrumental in founding Alcoholics Anonymous. He worked with many addicts, but found that there was little he could do for them. He met with a man named William Wilson about his severe alcohol addiction. He basically told him that his ailment was spiritual and that the only healing path for him was going to take the shape of a religious conversion. He and his drinking buddy who was in the process of undergoing such a religious conversion to treat his own alcoholism, founded Alcoholics Anonymous. Their twelve step program is designed to guide alcoholics on a spiritual recovery journey. They credit the insights of Carl Jung as a major influence on their program. It is difficult to fathom the good that AA has done for millions of addicts and their families around the world.
“His craving for alcohol was the equivalent of … the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed … as the union with God……….the evil principle prevailing in this world leads the unrecognized spiritual need into perdition, if it is not counteracted by a real religious insight (involving a personal and meaningful relationship with God)…… Alcohol in Latin is “spiritus” and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as well as for the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.” (Fight spirit with spirit)
I have a dream of a day when people can speak openly in church about their struggles with addiction or the addictions of a loved one; that as Christians, we can suspend judgement, mourn with those that mourn, and help addicts and their families bare these crushing burdens. Families are warped and disfigured by addictions that are hidden. When addictions are seen and appropriate support given, healing is inevitable. When addictions are hidden and support withheld, the addiction cycle will continue to poison families for generations. I sense, as Jung did, that some of our most spiritually gifted people are chained by addictions; that if they were set free, we would see His power greatly magnified in them.
I send a prayer up for my young friend at Sundance. His hatred and hostility were born of his pain. I hope his rehab was successful. I hope that whatever his healing path looks like, that it leads to the Savior. I know that the Savior understands as I never will, the suffering that he has experienced in his life. I know that the Savior knows how to help him to find peace and happiness and a life he can be proud of. Blessed be the name of Him who is Mighty to Save!!
After my last post, a woman named Heather posted a comment on my post “Giving Grace; Have a Tutu.” She said this:
You chose the wrong place to spout your “beliefs” you should talk to your Bishop. Poorly done.
This woman’s comment is classic Mormon woman aggression. Mormon women can and do shut each other down, shame each other, and make life hell for people like me who struggle with mental health issues. Heather is unusual because she is so direct. Usually we are much more subtle in our aggressions, usually couching them in many “concerns” and assurances of our “love.” Heather was able to capture in a mere two sentences, the essence of Mormon woman aggression and the problems it poses. At first I dismissed her comment as a troll remark, but now I see it as a gift. I’ve sent this post to her email in hopes that she will read it and perhaps she can learn from her post as well.
I’m going to start by looking at the first thing she takes issue with, my temerity to actually put my thoughts and feelings on a blog. According to Heather, that is my first mistake. I’ve heard this sentiment from others. They are basically uncomfortable with feelings being shown at all. In their minds, if feelings are to be shared, it should be with a trusted friend or group of friends, not the whole world on a public blog. It isn’t something they would feel comfortable doing, and they aren’t comfortable with me doing it either. The big question is……why?
We all have thoughts. We all have feelings? Did God make us to experience life in a personal vacuum, grappling with issues alone and without the tools to solve them? I don’t think so. You are free to disagree of course, but why are you so upset that I choose to post? It is me that is taking the risk, not you. You are free to ignore my posts and go play Candy Crush. Why does my choice to speak bother you? Maybe its because you are afraid of the truths I might reveal to you that might challenge some of your own beliefs? But if your faith is so strong, why is it so threatened?
The next thing to analyse is the word belief, which she puts in quotations. The assumption is that my thoughts are unworthy of the word beliefs, which would indicate something good and wholesome. My thoughts are nothing of that sort to Heather, so she chose to put the word in quotations.
She admonishes me to talk to my bishop, which title she capitalizes. This shows that she values church authority, is clearly a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, probably card carrying. She neglects to mention what sin I should confess, assuming that I must already know. My words are the devil’s spawn. She has no empathy or compassion for me or my bisexual friend. She knows little to nothing about me, and yet feels totally comfortable discounting my views and shaming me.
Lastly, she posts two words, “Poorly done.” This is interesting. It is like Heather has decided to be a fifth grade writing teacher judging my writing to be sub-par. It isn’t just my ideas, but the presentation of them that offends her. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course, but even a fifth grade writing teacher would surely have something more constructive to say. Heather can’t be troubled with constructive criticism.
All of my views came from Facebook referrals, so I have to assume that Heather is either a Facebook contact or the contact of the two friends who shared my post. Regardless, it isn’t Heather’s feelings that I take issue with. It is her failure to own her feelings.
In my blog post, I engaged with vulnerability. I shared personal information about myself and my experience in Relief Society, with my bisexual friend, with my own changing views of gender and sexuality in light of the experiences I’ve had. Heather is uncomfortable with my experiences. Guess what? I am too! This hasn’t been a fun easy path for me. I wish I had all the answers! I wish simple and easy solutions worked. This life is messy and complicated and confusing. Can we be real about that? Because for every five or so members of our church sitting in a Sunday School class with a Family Proclamation handout in their lap, there is one thinking, “My son told me he is gay. He will never be accepted by these people. No one can ever know.” Or maybe its, “My sister told me she wants to get a sex change. She wants me to think of her as my brother now. I wish I could tell my ward family and have them understand how hard this is. Instead I’ll just nod along and pretend this isn’t hard for me.” Can we listen to what they have to say? Can we resist the urge to judge? Can we choose to show love first? Some can’t do that. In fact, they are so afraid and so insecure in their faith, that they feel compelled to lash out. They pour acid into the wound. This makes church an excruciating experience for those who most need to feel the love of the Savior.
The truth is, Heather’s comment has nothing to do with me. It has everything to do with her. She feels uncomfortable, and she wants to blame someone. Its me. I must be evil. I must be apostate. I need to repent. I need to learn to write better. She read my post and now she feels bad inside. It must be my fault.
The only thing is, I didn’t do anything wrong. I even prayed and begged the Lord, “Show me my sin.” And He said, “You said what I wanted you to say. Be at peace.” Even after his assurances, and the assurances of friends, I still felt tortured with grief last night. Ripple effects from what happened Sunday have continued to cause conflict in the ward. I laid awake sobbing, struggling with suicidal thoughts after a day of being nearly incapacitated with depressive symptoms. This morning I’m angry. This is not my fault! I didn’t create this mess. Someone crapped in the Relief Society room. I didn’t do it and I’m not going to sit there and pretend it doesn’t stink. I’m going to express my feelings. I’m going to be real about my experiences. That’s what HE wants me to do.
So if I’m saying what he wants me to say, why do card carrying members of our church, like Heather, have such a visceral negative reaction to it? Because the truth is real and its uncomfortable, and sometimes it reveals things that are hard to deal with. But that is reality. Members of the church need to grapple with that reality and their feelings, not blame the messenger.
So my message to Heather, or any others who find themselves feeling like her, I encourage you to engage with your feelings. Explore them. Why is this so uncomfortable for you? I’m going to make a few assumptions. There is a lot of confusion, a lot of Satan’s lies, a lot of anger, a lot of societal upheaval around sexual issues. You feel that the Family Proclamation is an anchor in the storm. You take comfort in the unchanging principles that the prophets have revealed in a world of changing social moors. You feel that there is safety in following the prophet and that if people are righteous, they will be able to live as straight, happy, married people. That makes sense. If people can’t do that, they are the ones living in sin. They are to blame and deserve to be shunned and excluded.
So if that is the whole truth, why do my words cut you? You hear my sincerity. You know in your heart that shunning and excluding someone because of inner struggles with gender and sexual attraction is wrong. You know that the Savior you claim to worship would show empathy and love. You know it, but that makes it hard doesn’t it? How do you love and associate with someone when you disagree with their choices? How do you help a depressed sister when you can’t fix it? It’s hard. It’s okay to admit it. Own your feelings. Own your doubts. Don’t blame me because I showed you that life is complicated and hard.
The Savior said that he was the physician, and that the sick are the ones that need him. If the Savior is the physician, then that makes the church a kind of hospital. If the hospital is full of healthy people, that makes things really easy, right? No late nights, no stinky bandages, no gaping wounds, no testing to do, no vague symptoms to diagnose. The shifts are short with lots of time to chat and sit around.
Except under those nursing scrubs there are festering injuries, debilitating diseases, torturous rashes-all of them treatable, if only people could just have the courage to tell someone they are there. If someone does have the tremendous courage to take off part of a bandage, what will the reaction be? Will the staff jump up to assist with competent treatments at hand? If not, you can guarantee there will be no more healing in that hospital. Not only can the staff not get healthy themselves, how are they going to help any patients who come through the door?
And yet that’s what I see too often in my fellow sisters. Under our well set hair, carefully planned lessons, and clean dresses, we have wounds. We have doubts. We have fears. We have struggles. We hide them and expect others to do the same. I’ve seen very positive trends lately of sisters in my ward who have had the courage to talk honestly about their personal struggles particularly with mental wellness. Unfortunately, I have seen a corresponding backlash against mental health treatments, sometimes even from the leaders. This backlash is against mainstream mental health treatments; not fringe scam treatments, but medically approved, insurance paid treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of these treatments are even at LDS Services! Really?
I try to be patient. I try to explain and resist being easily offended. I try to take it in the teeth when my hard earned knowledge is scoffed at, cut off, and dismissed as “the evil philosophies of men.” I’ve done it for twenty years. No more. Mormon women, stop the hate. Stop it. I have mental health problems. No you don’t understand them. That’s okay, but just STOP the stigmatizing!! Each time you do it, you make it harder for someone else to get the treatment they need. If you are in church leadership, take the time to listen. Don’t think you know more than the therapist that is treating your friend. You don’t. Listen. Learn. Take the time to really tap into what the LORD is telling you about what this person needs. Have the humility to know that you weren’t called because you know what people need. It is because HE does and he trusts you enough to do what HE wants.
I have had too many church leaders tell me things that totally contradict my therapy plan. Not just a little bit. Totally contradicting. As in, my therapist tells me to explore my relationship with my parents. My leaders tell me to be grateful and forget negative past experiences. My therapist tells me to stand up for myself and confront an abuser. My church leaders tell me to forgive and forget. I am having a mental health crisis and my Relief Society President criticizes how I handled the situation. Rather than take steps to solve the systemic problems with mental health stigma among the sisters, she tells me not to talk to my counselor. In each of these situations, my leaders did not take the time to hear everything. They assumed. They minimized. They said to put the bandages back on. I looked just fine to them.
Heather, if you are still reading, I know you and those like you will be saying, “Now she’s criticizing her leaders! This is apostasy!” No it isn’t, because these leaders are me and you. We are the body of Christ. If one hand reaches out to help the other, that isn’t apostasy. That’s healthy behavior. Your words hurt me. But I forgive you! I forgive every church leader who has sabotaged my recovery. But can we talk about what I’m forgiving? Can we figure out how to stop hurting people like me who are trying hard to stay alive, stay functioning, and be there for our kids? If that’s apostasy, please excommunicate me. I’ll go gladly. I think we can get through this.
I have faith in YOU Heather. That’s why I’m taking the time to write this. I wasn’t so different from you twenty years ago. I can see myself writing something like what you wrote on a blog like mine. I hope you don’t have to suffer for twenty years before you come to see that what you did was wrong. I have faith that we are better than this. I have faith that we CAN and we WILL meet the challenges we face in our congregations. So I will continue to write, continue to speak, continue to shine a light on these problems. I will not put the bandages back on. This is not okay.
I’m grateful for the voice I have. God gave me this voice. Its a gift and a privilege to be able to write something that people actually take the time to read. I pray that I will be able to use this voice responsibly. I’m angry and hurt, but I feel calm right now. Anger and pain can be powerful to motivate. They drive me to my keyboard. I pray that my words will help and heal and not wound.
Grace is not a word we use often in my church. I can’t think of a single hymn in our hymnbook or children’s songbook that has it as a prominent theme. Even the famous Amazing Grace is missing from our hymnbook. My religion tends toward more of a works based religion. Our symbol is the beehive, and we revere the pioneers who were trail blazers, survivors, and hard workers. We associate grace with the protestant churches who have paid ministry. Our church only exists because of volunteers who are willing to roll up their sleeves. Of course, in doctrine, we believe in grace. When we read the scripture “By grace we are saved,” but then we tend to emphasize the second part, “After all we can do.” There are various metaphors for faith and works that have been taught to me over the years and they have worked for me for most of my life. Not anymore.
Something about this depressive episode has caused me to gravitate to the word grace. It is beauty, it is strength, it is poise. It is a ballerina on the stage. That dancer didn’t achieve grace through running or weight lifting. She didn’t hone her skills on the football field through taking tough hits. And yet in many ways, her training is just as brutal and taxing. It is balance, concentration, focus, and artistic expression.
Sometimes I think my worship has been more like football and less like ballet. Perhaps my embrace of grace is symbolic of the changes I am making religiously. I am taking off the football pads and putting on my tutu. I am tapping into my spiritual artist, centering and balancing my priorities, and focusing and concentrating on the things that matter most.
Grace is forgiveness. It isn’t the forced forgiveness that is born of fear that there will remain in me the “greater sin” if I don’t feel warm and fuzzy toward someone. It is forgiveness that springs naturally when you see every person as a creation of God who has beauty and good in them; that although they fall short and that their choices effect me, that I can see God’s design in it. It’s complicated. Its like holding the crow pose in yoga. Sometimes I can do it and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I can look at the people around me and give everyone grace, and sometimes I just have to run out of the room. Today I could give grace.
So I started a fight in Relief Society. Yes. It was kind of intentional. I knew what I had to say would throw a grenade into the lesson two minutes before the lesson was supposed to end. Still, I am the queen of uncomfortable, so I did it. My Lord said speak, so I spoke. After a few sentences she was cutting me off, but I kept speaking. I knew I needed to speak this message, and it didn’t matter that the primary kids were leaving and it didn’t matter that I was nobody and she was the one in charge. It didn’t matter because my Lord wanted me to speak.
The lesson was on truth. The Family Proclamation was on the chalkboard. I thought about how I used to display it prominently in my home. That was before I knew the truth I know now. Would I want to hang it on my wall now? I still believe it is true. But I also know that other things are also true.
Its true that gender is so much more complicated than I thought it was. That mental and emotional health is such a fragile thing, and that simplistic views spoken at the wrong time to the wrong person can drive people away from the Savior. That people can and do have same gender attraction and that it isn’t their fault. That some people are born female, and feel they are male and vice versa. That these people are valuable. Yes, the Proclamation on the Family is true, but they have truth too. We need to listen to them. We need to help them make the church work in their lives. That takes the grace and balance and skill of a dancer.
In the past, we could get by with a simplistic football style gospel. It got the job done. Today, we need to dig a little deeper to find the grace that the Savior has. We need the humility to understand that we know nothing of God and his design. We are as babes on his lap when it comes to his wisdom. Can we listen to his children? Can we hear their pain? Can we make his church a place they feel accepted and welcomed no matter what their sins are? Can we gracefully tip-toe through the minefield of their emotions to give them the love and the acceptance that Christ has?
I don’t have the answers. I know people who hang the family proclamation in their homes in a prominent place. I also know people who can no longer go to church because they feel too much emotional and mental anguish because people don’t take the time and effort to understand their unique challenges and meet them where they are. I know that we can do better as members of Christ’s church to see others as he does; not focusing on their outward appearance, but upon their hearts; to love first, and judge later, if at all. To stand for the truth, when its hard and uncomfortable; to speak for those who have no voice.
We need grace! We need HIS grace. He didn’t turn away from the beggar in his misery. He didn’t ignore the outcast. He welcomed all to come unto him. He showed us grace. It came from him like light emanating from the sun! If he were here, he would not turn away from the LGBT people. He would embrace them. He would accept them. He would tell them they have value and worth. He would explain to them why they were created in God’s image and the purpose and meaning of their unique experiences. He would lead them gently on their path without force or compulsion; with encouragement and praise. He would give them knowledge about mysteries that I don’t understand and perhaps never will in this life. He would give them grace.
It isn’t that the Proclamation to the Family isn’t true. It absolutely is. But there are a lot of things that are true and good and righteous that I fall short in. There are challenges that I face that others don’t understand. I am learning to give myself grace; to allow myself to be the person He wants me to be instead of the person others want me to be. As I have allowed myself to receive his grace, I want to give it to others.
I have three dear friends I know who identify as LGBT. I have one cousin by marriage who does. They are each different and have chosen their paths. I don’t see evil in them. I do see evil in those who shut them out. None of them goes to church anymore. My closest friend that I have had many tear jerking conversations with told me that she tried for many months to work with her leaders and make the church a place she could be comfortable. For her mental health, she had to stop going. She told me she still takes bread and water at home in a lonely sacrament. With lessons like the one we had today, I understand why she was uncomfortable. It saddens me to think that we are missing out on the truths that they might share with us if we had the humility to listen to them.
I have never met anyone that doesn’t have a friend or the friend of a friend who is LGBT. If not LGBT, then they are drinking coffee, or having sex outside of marriage, or not living the law in some other way. I don’t know if I would feel comfortable inviting these friends to come to church. What would they hear? Would they feel accepted? Is our ward a place where we can be honest and real about our journey and our experiences? If not, can we really call ourselves the Lord’s church? If we are so eager to show everyone what we know that we fail to listen and nurture his sheep that have strayed, do we resemble the Savior or the ones who killed him?
So I shared the story of my friend who came out as bisexual after being raised in the church. I told those sisters that we don’t have all the answers, as much as we like to think we do. I told them that God loves my friend. He has a path for her. It was awkward, and part of me thought, “Mother’s Day sucks so hard. Why didn’t they just let me teach in Primary?” Part of me was glad I said the uncomfortable thing even though it was kind of a hand grenade in that room of well dressed women and pinterest perfect muffins and cookies. Sometimes life isn’t Pinterest perfect.p
It isn’t that I want to take out a whip and beat my fellow members of the church. I love you. You are smart and dedicated and faithful. I’m just handing you a tutu. We are at a crossroads right now in the church. We as members can choose to follow the Savior (do ballet), or to follow dogma and tradition (play football). The prophet and our leaders are showing us that love, compassion, and grace are the way. I don’t have the answers yet. I just know that I love my LGBT friends. I want them to feel loved and welcomed at church along with all those, like me, who see themselves as sinners. It is possible to hold up a standard to the world, and yet fully love and embrace everyone who falls under it. The Savior showed the way. Put on your tutu, and let’s dance!
Important appointment. Scouts. Running late. Chili in the crockpot. Why was he late? Finally he walked in the door followed by a tall dark stranger. Of course! He had stopped to pick up William for the scout activity! William, one of the children I wrote about in my last post was now nearly as tall as Ben, a mountain of a boy that looked more like a man. I didn’t recognize him at first he had grown so much.
“Hi William!” I said delighted. He smiled and said hi back. I love it when he looks at me with his shy smiling eyes, like he knows just how happy I am to see him and he loves it. He sat in the living room and waited while we shuffled around getting boys off devices and gathering supplies. I was embarrassed that the house was a mess. I started picking up the red ornaments that Austin had scattered across the entryway. William got up and helped me pick up ornaments. Layne raced past him to get shotgun in the van, but William stayed until every ornament was put away. Devin noticed as we praised William’s thoughtfulness. I was grateful for the good example he had shown to my sons who are often not as conscientious of their mother as they should be.
Most mothers probably wouldn’t be as happy as I am to have William in our home. They wouldn’t be so eager to nurture their children’s friendships with him. I see in him what some can’t see because they look on the outside. William has a good heart, and that is the only thing my Lord sees. Why should I fear what my Lord considers unimportant?
When the boys came back from their activity, I got to hear about all their adventures at Urban Air trampoline park. All three of our reluctant scouters were there. One doesn’t come to church. One doesn’t like scouts, and the other, William, comes irregularly. Often those three feel like outsiders among the tight knit group of boys and they need a little extra from their leaders to help them get what they need from the activities. Last night, they got it! It was lovely.
I was especially impressed with Ben. Tuesday night while I was at choir practice, he had managed to load up all the boys and take cookies over to William’s house to give to him and his siblings. He issued a personal invitation to William to come to the activity. He stopped on his way home from work even though that made him a little bit late to the activity. He did the needful thing. He was the shepherd that the Master needed to nudge that sheep back into the fold.
It is hard to wrap your head around the ripple effects of what happened last night when a church leader did the needful thing. How can someone measure the good effect of a man exercising his priesthood power to magnify his calling and bless the life of one boy? Everyone benefits! My boys see that their father cares enough about that one boy that he will fight his whole family off from a package of cookies, herd them into the van, drive quite a distance to give them to him, and then come back the next day to take him to scouts. He isn’t going to get any awards for that! He won’t get any praise. That doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that William knows that we love him and that we want him to be in our ward family. What does that teach my sons about the worth of a soul to their father? To the Lord? Even if that child has a different color of skin, even if his parents don’t come to church, even if he has made some bad choices; he is worth that extra time and effort. He matters. The one matters.
It makes me think of my Master and what manner of man he was. I call myself his handmaid, but every day I choose whether or not to earn the title. I must do as He did to be worthy to take His name upon me. I must go about doing the needful thing however uncomfortable I feel or make others feel. Sometimes we have to speak uncomfortable things to those who need to hear them because those who feel uncomfortable are unable to speak for themselves. We will all be blessed if we listen to the cries of the one in the wilderness. We can leave the 99. They will be better for our efforts in behalf of the one.
How marvelous are the doings of my Lord? Who can measure the grace and majesty of his handiwork? Who can say how great His love for his children? It would be easier to count the grains of sand on the seashore than to comprehend the eternities of His love and power. He is Mighty to Save! Mighty to Save! And blessed be all those who labor, for the field is ripe with souls to save. We need only bring them to Him. One by one.
“They aren’t here again,” I said to Ben on Sunday. We were concerned that they would stop coming when their Grandma moved away. Four little black children aged 14 to 6, their parents work several jobs to provide for them, used to occupy the back row of the chapel, but their dark faces and bright t-shirts were not there.
We first met them when the oldest boy started coming to scouts. Ben took him under his wing, and before long, we were bringing him and his siblings with us to church. When Grandma moved to town, we brought her along too. Sometimes there wasn’t enough room in our van there were so many who wanted to come. I became very attached to all of them, but in the two little ones I saw something very special. In their eyes I saw generations of future little black boys and girls yet unborn who might have better lives if they had a few of the benefits and opportunities that some of the other children in our ward family take for granted. I saw myself as a catalyst for those children, a cog in the works, an instrument in His hands, to bring some blessings to some of His precious little ones with their dark skin and their soft fluffy hair.
Without those little ones, the ward family seemed strangely incomplete; like a Christmas tree without tinsel, or even a violin without strings. Perhaps the Master said it best when he told the story of the shepherd and his 100 sheep. He knew that one was missing and he left the 99 and went out to find the one that was lost.
How many of our ward family are lost? How many do we search for? Are our hymns lacking some voices that we need to be complete? Are our congregations too stale with the same familiar faces? Some are offended by my words. They think I am too hard on our leaders who are volunteer and are doing all they can to fulfill their responsibilities. To them I would say, there is one thing that is needful, and I fear we are often choosing to neglect the better part. As those who call ourselves by His name, perhaps we don’t need to give more, just differently.
I sit on the same side of the table as you. I too have a calling, I too am a volunteer, I have the same size of vehicle as anyone else, and I am just now getting to church on time. It has been two weeks in a row now. The depression is still hard. It would be so easy to say, “Let someone else help those children. I have done enough. It is time for me to sit comfortably with the 99.” The siren song of complacency is compelling, but charity never faileth. Those children know who loves them and the sheep will only go with their shepherd. Are we the Master’s shepherd? Are we His hands when action is needed, or are we comfortably sitting with the 99?
My words are not intended as criticism, but as an invitation. We can do better. We must do better. The lambs of his fold cry out to him in the wilderness and he hears their cries. Do we? If we have the vanity to call ourselves by His name and have not charity, we are as sounding brass. At the last day, we will call out for mercy and he will close the door of the kingdom saying, “I never knew you. Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” There is a better future in store for all of us. Let us develop that charity which never faileth. Let us fill our chapels with the tatooed and those that smell of cigarette smoke. Let us pack our pews with colorful t-shirts, and blue jeans. Let us load up our vans to bursting with the children of those whose parents are unable to come for whatever reason. Let us fill our hymns with the sounds of all kinds of voices as we reach out to the Master for healing. There is enough room for them! He is Mighty to Save! Then will He be there with us, His arms outstretched, “For I was hungry and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty and ye gave me drink, I was naked and ye clothed me. I was sick and ye visited me, I was in prison and ye came unto me…..Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you.”
Prints by Shawn